Apple might have just scored some points with users but might have also further cemented the government’s stance against encrypted devices. Responding to a Brooklyn federal judge’s request for input, Apple revealed that it is impossible for it to unlock an iPhone or an iPad running iOS 8 or later due to stronger encryption methods. That said, it does admit that it can technically unlock devices running an older version, including the one involved in a current court proceeding, but advises the judge not to open that can of worms.
The brief was filed at the behest of Judge James Orenstein who was trying to decide on the US Department of Justice’ petition to force Apple to unlock an encrypted iPhone seized during an investigation. Orenstein expressed concern about the situation, given that even Congress has failed to formulate laws regarding the controversial matter. He first wanted to know if it was a technically possible procedure in the first place and whether it would be “unduly burdensome” on Apple’s part.
Apple’s reply isn’t clear cut. It is, however, clear that devices running iOS 8 or higher cannot be unlocked without the passcode that only the user would know. No one, not even Apple, has extra keys. That extra strong security measure was put in place last year in response to the alarm raised by Edward Snowden about the NSA’s spying practices. Tech companies, such as Apple and Google, have been accused of assisting the government in its data harvesting spree. To resolve itself of such liabilities, Apple has made it impossible for even itself to break through encrypted devices, much to the consternation of the US government.
That said, Apple does mention an exception. While it says 90 percent of its devices now run iOS 8, 10 percent are still using an older version. Technically, it will be possible for Apple to unlock those devices. Coincidentally, the iPhone in question is one such device. Apple, however, urges Orenstein not to force it to do so, saying that it would break the trust between Apple and its consumers and substantially harm the brand. Not to mention setting a legal precedent for similar cases.
Orenstein has not yet issued his ruling and a hearing is scheduled for Friday.